16 January 2017

n.d.p. in beaujolais: nicolas dubost, saint-germain-sur-l'arbesle

"It's crazy, how many young winemakers are setting up in Beaujolais," muses southern Beaujolais winemaker Nicolas Dubost, who attained biodynamic certification for his organic domaine in 2015. "But not so much in the south."

Dubost is based in Saint-Germain-sur-l'Arbresle, a hamlet beside the village of Bully in the Pierre Dorées. The general viticultural approach here - industrial, productivist, machine-oriented - does a disservice to the diversity of the largely unknown terroir. The handful of ambitious, quality-oriented winemakers - Dobost included - sell their wines at prices so low as to practically discourage critical reflection.

Indeed, if the details of Beaujolais wine production overall remain under-appreciated, even by wine professionals, it's probably because the stakes are so small. There are strong incentives to master, say, Barbaresco vintages or vineyard exposition in Côte Rôtie, since the clients for these high-value wines tend to pose questions and seek assurance of expertise. Folks buying in the 9-14€ range need less convincing, so most retailers, not to mention critics, are content to leave it at 'sweet juice,' 'glouglou,' or a similar substitute for actual qualitative description. It's a shame, because as Dubost's wines increasingly prove, there are troves of nuance to be discovered, even in such unheralded terroir, at such small stakes.

"In the south you don’t have cru appellations, so it’s harder to bring new winemakers," says Dubost, as we drive past his various vineyard parcels. "Whereas here we have a terroir that would really have an effect, you know?"

There are even worrying signs the opposite is occurring - a flight of vignerons. We pass the cuvage of local biodynamic pioneer Bruno Debize, who threw in the towel and ceased production in 2014. Dubost now rents one of his parcels, "Les Ecully."

Dubost shows me "Fond Blain," a sweeping low ridge on the outskirts of Bully where he possesses 4ha. He describes its terroir as "a marriage between the clay limestone and alluvions," yielding a relatively rich wine. For the cuvée titled "Fond Blain," he blends the fruit with that from a smaller patch of vines on alluvial terroir outside his cuvage.

Dubost founded his domaine in 2000, partly with his grandfather's vines, which since the late fifties had been sent to the cave cooperative. He vinified in his grandparents' cellar in the center of Bully until 2010, when he contructed his modern cuvage in Saint-Germain-sur-l'Arbresle. The domaine today comprises about 13ha of vines. More big changes came with the 2015 vintage: Dubost dropped the Beaujolais appellation for his parcel-specific cuvées, "Les Argillières," "La Croix Haty," and "Fond Blain."

"When you go in Vin de France, you’re free to work as you want, you don’t owe anything to anyone, and that’s a liberty," he says, adding, "I think, today, liberty is priceless."

With the change came some flashy new labels, an improvement from the cartoonish ones that came before, but not much. Dubost seems to have a peculiar blind spot for packaging. In all other respects he evinces the business savvy common to many successful Pierres Dorées winemakers, who are on average perceptibly more pragmatic and sophisticated than their counterparts in the crus. (Proximity to Lyon seems to play an outsize role.)

2015 was a tricky year for Dubost, as for everyone in Beaujolais. He says his yields were acceptable, all things considered, but that he made less wines, because he sold more grapes (including some to a certain well-known Jura vigneron). The year's heat and dryness particularly marked his Beaujolais Blanc, which never quite finished its sugar. As it is it's a pungent 14°, a weaponized Beaujolais white, liquoreux and resinous.

The 2015 "Fond Blain" shows oddly faded in the glass on that day in October, with a colour that seems to testify to a very low sulfur use. Its licorice notes don't quite achieve enough movement on the palate. More successful is the 2015 "La Croix Haty," denser, more extracted, with just a tad too much gas left in it, demanding a brisk decanting. A quick shake in the glass sees its notes of china bark and dried cherry open up enticingly. It shares a pleasantly bitter, rooty profile with the "Argillières," although the latter, a 2014, is more graceful and has developed a nice truffly note. Both "La Croix Haty" and "Argillières" show a maturity and complexity that is downright rare in the Pierre Dorées.

Dubost practices whole-cluster semi-carbonic maceration in temperature-controlled cement tanks for all his red cuvées. First-phase maceration is of moderate length, between 12-14 days in 2015, about a third of that for the primeurs. He doesn't refrigerate harvest, instead using panels and pumping over to heat or cool the tanks as he wishes.

While he avoids filtration and sulfur use, I sense his approach to vinification is somewhat more controlled than some of his natural peers; he describes first heating (to 28°) then cooling the tanks of his wines in 2015, in efforts to counterbalance a lack of malic acid in the vintage. It seems possible the pumping-over and temperature swerves could contribute to the sometimes unsupple build of his cuvées de garde.

On the afternoon I visit he pumps over a tank of 2016 "Foliard" to try and drive off some light acetate aromas. He's an attentive, open-minded taster, inviting me to swish my glass through the flowing juice at several stages, to taste the differences as they arise. These are always fascinating moments - tasting wines in the delicate, primordial stage, aware the vigneron in question is intensely alert to the barest suggestion of a fault.

"You can taste the morning and at night and it’s not the same wine," he says as we swirl our glasses. We're outside, following the example of Chauvet and Néauport, which latter peripatetic winemaker includes Dubost on his rounds in the region. 

"Even here," Dubost marvels, "the second bucket - it’s not the same wine." 

Domaine Nicolas Dubost
84, Chemin de la Rouille
69210 Saint-Germain-Nuelles
Related Links:

A nice note on Dubost's 2011 Beaujolais in this 2015 piece in Le Point.

Beaujolais 2016:

Romain des Grottes, Saint-Etienne-des-Ouillières
Yann Bertrand's First Primeur
Beaujolais Harvests 2016
Christophe Pacalet, Cercié
Sylvère Trichard & Elodie Bouvard (Séléné), Blacé
Jérome Balmet, Vaux-en-Beaujolais
L'Auberge du Moulin, Saint-Didier-sur-Chalaronne
Jean-François Promonet, Leynes
Hervé Ravera, Marchampt
Justin Dutraive, Fleurie
Julien Merle & Nathalie Banes, Legny
La Fête des Conscrits, Villié-Morgon
Domaine Leonis (Raphael Champier & Christelle Lucca), Villié-Morgon

Beaujolais, Autumn 2015:

Xavier Benier, Saint-Julien
Jean-Gilles Chasselay, Châtillon d'Azergues
Marcel Joubert, Quincié
Nicolas Chemarin, Marchampt
Anthony Thévenet, Villié-Morgon
Romain Zordan, Fleurie
Yann Bertrand, Fleurie
Domaine Thillardon, Chénas
Sylvain Chanudet, Fleurie
Patrick "Jo" Cotton, Saint-Lager
Pierre Cotton, Odenas
L'Auberge du Col du Truges, Le Truges
Julie Balagny, Moulin-à-Vent
La Cuvée des Copines 2015
Beaujolais Harvests 2015

Beaujolais Bike Trip, Summer 2015:

Georges Descombes, Vermont
Jean-Paul Thévenet, Pizay
Jules Métras, Fleurie
Rémi et Laurence Dufaitre, Saint-Etienne-des-Ouillières
Jean-Claude Lapalu, Saint-Etienne-La-Varenne
Benoit Camus, Ville-sur-Jarnioux

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